A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
To avoid his pursuers a nameless fugitive has taken refuge on an abandoned island in Polynesia, one rumored to breed a strange and deadly disease that drove away it’s inhabitants. We never fully learn what has lead the Venezuelan narrator of The Invention of Morel to this desperate life on the lamb, though we do get a few hints of it in the final pages. And it says something about just how puzzling and suspenseful this short novel is, that the narrator’s crimes are one of it’s least intriguing mysteries. When they were finally hinted at I felt almost like I had to be reminded of them: “Oh yeah, that’s right, what did he do anyway?”
The real mystery is the island itself. It has only three man made structures and they are a bit incongruous: a museum (which doesn’t seem to have ever been used as a museum at all), a chapel, and a swimming pool. At first the fugitive is pleased with his new found home, taking up residence in the museum. But when a group of vacationers suddenly appear, driving him away from the complex of odd buildings and into the island’s wilderness he begins to drift into madness. First, he falls desperately in love with one of the visitors he spies on. Then he goes a bit paranoid and refuses to acknowledge the increasingly obvious weirdness of the vacationers as anything but an elaborate plot to capture him.
The fugitive eventually comes to an understanding of who exactly has invaded his island, and although his reaction—the final twist in a twist heavy plot—may not be entirely a surprise, it will still thrill you.
It’s a story about love, reality, and madness with a few science fictional elements, and it ends up feeling influenced just as much by H.G. Wells, Verne, and Defoe as it does by Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges (who wrote the introduction to our edition, and whose wife, Norah Borges de Torres, did the illustrations as well). At a hundred pages, it’s a quick read and compelling throughout, an ideal one-sitting, day-off read. Most importantly, I think it’s the kind of thing that will capture your imagination and stick with you for a lifetime.
Review by Matthew